Did Truman Start the Vietnam War?

The headline is purposefully provocative. How could Truman, who came on the scene after Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, have started the Vietnam War of two decades later? He didn’t, of course, but the case could be made, and was made in my thesis, that Truman instituted a policy shift towards Indochina which set the groundwork for what was to come. Here’s a snippet of my introduction on the topic.

Harry S. Truman, Vice-President and former Senator from Missouri, assumed the office of the Presidency on April 12, 1945 after the death of the longest serving U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman immediately found himself in charge of a nation embroiled in the most all-encompassing war in human history. Unprecedented in scope and in challenge, President Truman faced the ravages of war waning in Europe but with the likelihood of a long and costly affair in the Pacific Theater against Japan. The Truman administration was charged with the task of managing war reparations, checking Communist advances, attacking an entrenched Japanese army, and balancing fragile relations with Britain and France. This would have been enough of a challenge for a seasoned leader like Roosevelt, but for the inexperienced Truman, it was truly daunting.

Truman had served as Vice President for only a matter of weeks before Roosevelt’s death. His senatorial background gave him limited experience in the realm of foreign affairs, and Roosevelt did not include the new V.P. in important matters of state during the nascent hours of FDR’s fourth term.  In fact, Truman had been excluded from most executive branch conferences on foreign policy, leaving him to gleam his knowledge of world events mostly from reading newspapers and listening to Capitol Hill chatter (Donovan xiv).  When he became president, Truman did not know about the Manhattan Project (Bradley 103), and had not been informed of what Roosevelt had said at the meetings in Tehran and Yalta earlier in the year (Donovan 10).  He entered the Presidency as a neophyte in foreign policy with no experience in the art of negotiating (Donovan 10), and he brought with him a new Secretary of State, James Byrnes, who also had little foreign policy training (Donovan 17).  This lack of experience, coupled with Roosevelt’s confusing and often contradictory foreign policy, presented Truman with great challenges as his administration tried to bring closure to two wars while balancing world peace.

Not surprisingly, Truman said very little publicly about foreign policy over the first few months of his presidency, but a closer look at the actions of the executive branch in the early days of his administration reveals a clear shift in foreign policy which favored an understandably strong commitment toward France and Britain as tensions heightened with the Soviets over the make-up of post-war Europe (Lucas 13).  In July 1945, the discord over Poland unraveled the trust between the two war-time allies and put Warsaw firmly under control of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin (Donovan 57). This undoubtedly gave Britain, France, and the U.S. a great deal of apprehension concerning the Soviet Union’s long-term plans. The U.S. viewed the Soviets in purely ideological terms, thinking that worldwide Communism was the goal (Lucas 13). By the end of 1945, most American policy experts viewed Soviet aggression as the greatest threat to world security, and they saw the Soviets emerging as the dominant power in Asia (Buhite and Hamel 370). Because of this, Truman’s focus on repairing European alliances in the summer of 1945 made a lot of sense; however, this European-focused foreign policy shift would have grave consequences for the peoples of Indochina.

99 Cent Promotion & Excerpt 1: “The Reach of the Banyan Tree”

My latest novel will be on 99 cents on Kindle from Feb 25 through March 2. Please pick up a copy at the link below.

The following is an excerpt from the very beginning, setting up the premise and theme. I hope you enjoy. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Part I: Lost Souls Fifty-Five Years Apart

The Banyan Tree

“A banyan tree sees all, knows all, and keeps many secrets. It knows a time of bondage and a time of freedom. Its reach never stops; it keeps growing and expanding regardless of circumstances, regardless of difficulties. Time and destiny are on its side. In the end, the grand banyan tree, with its thirty-foot expanse, will once again sense order restored to the universe.”

Nguyen Van Vinh, 1945, French Indochina

The Cliff

August 1945 – Tonkin, French Indochina

Dinh-Hoa didn’t think twice about the tropical monsoon which made visibility a dead-stop nil. He kept up the pace and sloshed down the mud-laced mountainous route, complete with hairpin turns every tenth of a mile. The wipers of his Soviet-Zel lorry flapped furiously but did little to remove the thick, curled, dimpled drops that repainted themselves on the windshield as soon as the rubber wiped them away.

Dinh-Hoa’s truck raced on, encased in the black stormy night, carrying a payload that needed to arrive on time. Only foolishness could have clung to the side of that mountain on a night like this, but Dinh-Hoa had done it a hundred times before. He felt each turn with the newly treaded tires and trustingly leaned into each curve with increasing confidence. There were no road signs, no guardrails, and, luckily, no oncoming traffic.

He estimated that he had an hour and a half more till he cruised into the relative ease of the rice plains and then on to headquarters. Without warning, a large rock jumped out and hit the right-front tire. Dinh-Hoa slammed on the brakes and swerved slightly, feeling a sudden nervousness in his stomach, which quickly dissipated as he felt the front tires grip, bringing the lorry back under control.

“Stupid rain.”

He curled around the next turn and hit a mud patch which locked his wheels like a vehicle on open ice. Dinh-Hoa and the truck careened off the cliff into the canyon below, falling one thousand five-hundred feet, piercing the darkness with five hundred brand new rifles.

Prison

July 2000 – Thai Nguyen, northern Vietnam

Love is not wished for. Nor is it wished away. Love, lost or found, must be wrestled with on a daily basis.

He put down his pen after scratching out a few muddled words that escaped his mind in that blindingly dark place. Light existed—faint strands that peered through the small portal eight feet above him. The window measured no more than a foot in diameter, with thick iron bars. He felt the heat, the deafening silence, and the unrelenting smell of urine, which turned his mind into a confusion of dark thoughts, constantly attacking him, teasing his sanity, spending his emotion. He only had her memory—little good that would do him. The small black journal shook in his hand as he blotted out everything in his mind except her. Her untouchable, petite frame, her hair jettisoning down to her waist, her soft touch, her gentle voice taming the harshest of edges. His phantom thoughts mocked him, sending him into convulsions, which usually ended with him lying flat on the damp floor, sweat dripping profusely from his wilting body. I love her, he would think or say out loud. To him it made no difference. Drenched, parched, and completely expelled, he cried for his loss—for his love that would never be again.

She could never forgive me. Never.

A thought like this might have given courage to a brave man to end it all. But he was not brave. He cowered in the darkness and cried, hoping the night would lift its wretched curse. But the iron doors clanged instead, and the silent jailer slid the tray of cabbage soup and steamed rice along the brick floor. He would eat like the coward he was. He would stay alive. He would hold the little black journal in his hand. He would think of her, and then he would fall asleep, face down on the jute cot, and wake up the next day to do it all over again.

80,000 more words and an amazing story is waiting for you HERE!  Only 99 cents for a limited time!

Know Your History: Indochina 1945 from a Page in my Novel

I’m going to change up the “know your history” post this time around and use a direct quote from my new novel, The Reach of the Banyan Tree, to emphasize the strange WWII ties which existed in Indochina in 1945. Here’s a short paragraph from the chapter entitled “The Strange Ways of the Universe”:

On a cosmic scale, it all seemed kind of absurd. Communist trained guerrillas fighting to overthrow the Japanese, so that they could get a chance to overthrow the French, whom they really hated. Communist trained guerrillas, working with the communist Chinese in cooperation with the nationalist Chinese to fight against the imperialist Japanese with the help of the Americans. Americans, working with the communist Chinese and the communist-leaning Vietnamese, while ignoring the French of Indochina who had kowtowed to the Germans and cooperated with the Japanese, even though their Free-French brothers fought side-by-side with the Allies in Europe. So it was. July of 1945 in Indochina was a political and military mystery—common threads tangled in the strangest of ways.

Commentary: Confusing, isn’t it. But that was the truth and this confusion is what led the Viet Minh to feel confident to declare independence for Vietnam on Sept 2, 1945. They hoped greatly that the Americans would have backed their bid for independence. If only they had, history would have told a much different tale, and the Vietnam War may not have happened. But of course, it is futile to play the “what if” game with history. There is only that which “was”.  And so it was in the summer of 1945.

Three Generations – One Awesome Vietnam Story

As The Reach of the Banyan Tree gets closer to launch day, I want to highlight the one American family which always seems to be connected to Vietnam – the Carson family.

Charles Carson was a member of the OSS (pre-cursor to the CIA) and parachuted into Tonkin, French Indochina in the summer of 1945, just a month before the Japanese capitulated. His task? Train the Viet Minh resistance fighters to be more effective against the Japanese. But what he doesn’t bargain for is getting dragged into an adventure to find a truck load of missing rifles which in turn brings him face to face with a tough, but beautiful Vietnamese woman. Anything can happen from there.

Charles “C.R.” Carson II spent time in ‘Nam during the 1960s. He fell out with his father and eventually struck it rich with his grandfather in the oil business. He is brash, arrogant, slightly crooked with a good heart – maybe.

Charles “Chip” Carson III arrives in Vietnam in 1998 to do humanitarian work. He falls not only for the country but also for a beautiful young Vietnamese woman named Thuy. He just has to convince her father to let them get married.

Three generations of Carson men, whose stories in Vietnam get connected in the most unexpected and gripping ways.

It’s all about loving and leaving Vietnam.

The adventure begins July 1!